Simma Lieberman Associates

Strategies and Advice on Work and Life: October 2007


 

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Bridging the Age Gap

Cross-Generational Work Dynamics Introduction

Beyond Stereotypes to Strategies Age Gaps in the Workplace

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Consultant, Speaker, Author About Simma

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Several newsletters ago, Kate Berardo and I wrote two articles about the importance of Communicating Across Generations in the workplace, along with a few tips. Kate and I have been collaborating on various projects including cross generation communication for the past six years. I’m what’s known as a “baby boomer” and Kate is on the cusp between Generation X and Y. Together we’ve developed a synergy that has contributed to the success of our respective businesses.

When, as a result of these articles, we received many requests for workshops related in some way to Cross Generation Communication in the Workplace, we realized that organizations were finally picking up on the importance of age—the often overlooked aspect of diversity that impacts workplace dynamics.

As such, I've decided to focus this Lieberman Learning Letter on how to bridge generational differences by featuring another article that Kate and I have written on bridging age gaps in the workplace and moving beyond generational stereotypes.

Wishing you the best in the last few months of 2007,

 

 

 

 

Simma Lieberman Associates

"The Inclusionist"
Helping to Create Profitable Cultures

Consulting, Speaking, Training  
Diversity Strategy, Diversity Dialogues, Gender Communication


Bridging Age Gaps in the Workplace: Beyond Stereotypes to Strategies

by Simma Lieberman and Kate Berardo

For the first time, four generations of employees are simultaneously playing a prominent role in the workplace. Today we have more and more people who are working beyond their 60s into their 70s, 80s and even some into their 90s, which means you may find two people working together who could potentially have a 50 year age difference.

The two of us writing this piece—Simma and Kate—with nearly 30 years between us, are testament to the fact that an age difference does not have to translate into more difficulty working together. We've collaborated on projects for over 6 years, written a book together, and celebrated personal and professional milestones in each of our lives. We both feel strongly that our relationship has been significantly enriched because of our age difference, not in spite of it.

Bridging age gaps does, however, often involve a bit more effort and investment in the relationship—at least at the beginning. Why? People are products of their history, their environment and all of their experiences, so people from different generations often have very different life experiences that shape how they think, what they value, and what drives them at work.

If we were writing a traditional cross-generational article, at this junction we would probably start writing out bullet points of the main differences between the four generations. Well, we can't bring ourselves to do that. While its tempting to hope that a few bullet points could suffice in summing up a whole generation of millions of people, we are doubtful. Such descriptions need to be viewed holistically, cautiously taking into account all the dimensions of diversity and individuality that exist so you don't end up getting stuck in stereotypes.

Even the 'safest' description, like lists of key events that have shaped various generations can be misguiding. While one generation may experience a collective event (e.g. Generation X as being shaped by the technology boom and dotcom era), that event may impact them as individuals very differently. Let us give you a few examples.

Much is written about the experience of baby boomers during the Vietnam War and the 60s. Most of what we have read talks about baby boomers being characterized as protesting the war with peace marches and demonstrations. Its true that there were massive marches and demonstrations during that time, but there were also baby boomers in the military in Vietnam, dying, getting wounded, and coming back having experienced the trauma of being in a war. They were shaped very differently by the same experience.

Or, take the Veterans generations, who lived through the depression. Many people from this generation were frugal, saved their money, and kept a lot of canned food in their pantries “just in case.” Yet at the same time there were other people who decided that they didn’t know what was going to happen so they had to live for today, and spent every paycheck.

Remember as well that generations typically span 20 years. That means an event like the dotbomb for Gen Xers in their early teens may be nothing more than a faint memory of a TV report, while for older Gen Xers it may remind them of the painful memory of a lost job.

Our point is this: while it's helpful to know some of the generalizations about different generations as a starting point, the real learning and the real bridging of age difference comes through doing two things: 1) suspending your assumptions and judgments, and 2) engaging in dialogue across generations.

What does this mean in practice? When you are interacting across age difference...

  • Find out not only about the seminal events that occurred as they were growing up, but also about the ways in which this event impacted the person with whom you are interacting.

  • Avoid assuming that because people are a certain age they will act a certain way. There are generational trends and norms but there are a lot of people in each generation that don’t fit, like the 70 year old computer whiz who designs websites and blogs, the 25 year old who is not computer literate, the 55 year old who runs marathons, and the 45 year old who volunteers 20 hours a week at women and children’s shelter.

  • Instead of treating others as you like to be treated, find out how they like to be treated and respect them by honoring that. When working with someone older than you, this means not automatically addressing them by their first name, as you may prefer to be called. Instead, ask such individuals whether they want to be called by their first name or their last.

  • Acknowledge age difference and talk about how you can learn from each other and help each other be more successful. You may be surprised by some of the things you have in common and want to know more about each others different experiences.

These are just a few ways in which you can break through generational stereotypes and bridge generational differences. For additional strategies like avoiding generational jargon and approaching interactions with a learning orientation, check out these articles below:

Contact us to learn more about Simma and Kate's Cross-Generational programs and workshops. Call Simma Lieberman Associates at (510)-527-0700.

Simma Lieberman works with people and organizations to create environments where people can do their best work. She specializes in diversity, gender communications, life-work balance and stress, and acquiring and retaining new customers.

Kate Berardo is an intercultural trainer and consultant who specializes in programs on cross-cultural awareness, international relocation, and multicultural teambuilding. She is the founder of the global resource site Culturosity.com and co-author of Putting Diversity to Work. www.culturosity.com.


Learn with Simma Lieberman at Home

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Diversity Leadership (Audio CD + handouts)

by Simma Lieberman

 

Simma Lieberman speaks about diversity leadership for the new millennium in this LIVE presentation.

Simma inspires future leaders from universities across the U.S. about what it takes to be a diversity leader today. Using her upbeat humorous style, Simma addresses the skills that are essential for success in our diverse society.

The CD contains:

  • Hand-outs to enhance your personal diversity training.

 

Break Through Fear and Self-Doubt (Audio CD + handouts)

by Simma Lieberman

Break Through FearSimma Lieberman shares her own experiences with a live audience about how to break the stranglehold of fear and self doubt that interferes with our ability to live our best lives.

Laugh and cry as Simma recounts her days growing up in the Bronx and how she broke through fear and self-doubt. Simma knows that motivation without “how-to knowledge” leads nowhere. Her practical action steps help you break through your own fear and self-doubt in your personal or professional life.

Contains:

  • Hand-outs to help guide you through your own action steps.

 

Leveraging Diversity With Dialogue (MP3 file)

by Simma Lieberman

Leveraging Diversity With DialogueListen in as Tracy Brown from Diversity Trends and Simma Lieberman discuss Diversity, Difference and Dialogue.

 

 

You will learn:

  • How you and your organization can benefit from the inclusive dialogue process
  • The difference between dialogue, debate and conversation
  • When and how to use inclusive dialogue to develop trust amongst people who are different that can create a foundation for problem solving
  • Examples of how people and organizations have successfully used inclusive dialogue

 

 

About Simma...

Simma helps organizations create more profitable cultures and improve individual and organizational performance. She is a consultant, speaker, and trainer. Simma is the co-author of Putting Diversity to Work (Crisp Publications, 2003), a guide for managers on leading a diverse workforce.

Simma is often called "The Inclusionist" because of her ability to improve communication amongst people who are different. She is quoted in various national magazines and news sources, including The Economist, Redbook, NY Times, Investor's Business Daily, First For Women, Human Resources Executive, Black MBA, MSNBC and Fox News. Her clients include McDonalds, Pillsbury, Lucent Technologies, Motorola, AT&T, Monster.com, Diageo, Stanford Court Hotel, and the Women's Food Service Forum.

Contact Simma to help your employees work better together and ensure your organization's success...

 

The Lieberman Learning Letter

 

The Lieberman Learning Letter is an occasional e-newsletter containing information from Simma's workshops, seminars, and keynote speeches. Simma shares this information free of charge with colleagues and clients to promote the continued learning and growth of individuals and their organizations. This email is sent to subscribers of Simma's newsletter, colleagues, program attendees, and clients of Simma Lieberman Associates. It is intended to be enlightening, not irritating. Unsubscribe below if you have received this email in error, or if you no longer wish to receive Simma's newsletter. Please forward this newsletter to friends and colleagues who would benefit from its contents, using the link below.

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